Monday, December 24, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru,  As the year comes to an end, there are parties galore throughout Sea Cliff: Winter Solstice celebrations, cookie swaps, Christmas Eve and Day dinners ,  New Year's Eve galas, and   holiday open houses. Such fun but I do yearn to read something that will help me understand a little better the  political world we  inhabit.  Am I asking too much of any book?  Baffled by Politics

Dear Baffled, Yes, you asking too much, but as we approach the new year I suggest you  start by reading  THE EVE OF DESTRUCTION: HOW 1965 TRANSFORMED AMERICA  by James Patterson- not the Patterson of crime fiction, but  the political scientist.  Patterson's book opens at the White House Christmas tree lighting in 1964. John F. Kennedy had been dead a year and Lyndon Johnson had just been elected in a landslide victory.  A buoyantly optimistic Johnson said as he switched on the tree lights, "These are the most hopeful times in all the years since Christ was born in Bethlehem."  In 1965, he was to oversee   sweeping changes in the country' s fabric-the Voting Rights Act, Medicare/Medicaid, the Civil Rights Act, and  a series of vast education and immigration reforms.  But by the end of 1965, the country would be mired in a deadly war in Vietnam, cities would be exploding with racial violence, and Johnson was being denounced as a pariah by both the Left and Right.   Patterson offers us clues, culturally and politically, as to how this reversal of fortune came about and we the readers are left mourning what could have been….

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru,  I just came home from Elizabeth Weinstein's lovely annual Cookie Swap. What a great party and, as you might expect at such a gathering, throughout the evening there was much talk of good books. Someone mentioned that her book group had chosen a very controversial novella - something about  biblical characters.  It sounded interesting. Are you familiar with this book? Book and Cookie Fan

Dear Book and Cookie,  The book you are interested in THE TESTAMENT OF MARY  by Colm Toibin is indeed controversial and a great choice for  group discussion.  Toibin who has written many award winning books- BROOKLYN, THE MASTER,  BLACKWATER LIGHTSHIP, MOTHER AND SONS- all of which have an underlying theme of  Irish alienation-  turns to a very different topic:  the last days of a grieving, angry, reproachful Mary, mother of Christ.  Toibin's Mary expresses disdain for her son's followers calling them "misfits," the evangelists, "inquisitors", and refuses to see her child as Son of God, turning instead to the Greek goddess Artemis for solace.  Toibin's  Mary guiltily flees her son's crucifixion before he dies- out of fear for her own safety . She refuses to share in his suffering because" one's own pain is more than enough."  In his Mary, Toibin offers a bleak but  strangely beautiful portrait of humankind.  She says of her sufferings and her son's: "it was not worth it. "  Yes, as I said- a controversial book, indeed.

On another note: this Saturday, Dec. 22 at 2pm after the Children's Library closes, we will be gathering there for our annual reading of Dickens's CHRISTMAS CAROL.  It takes about an hour and is appropriate for teenagers and adults. Hope you can join us!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru,  Last week I went to Fred Stroppel's  "Season's Readings-A Twisted Shorts  Christmas" at the Creative Arts Studio here in Sea Cliff.  It was a rollicking great time - and apparently there will be an encore presentation this Friday, December 15. Fred, Liz and the Sebetic, Reres, Marchese, Dawson , Plano  troupe are an unbelievably talented group.  During the intermission, many in the audience could be heard discussing the upcoming finale of "Homeland" the controversial series on  the CIA, counter terrorism,  and the Middle East.  There seems to be an increasing number of these well written, thought- provoking series on TV.  Has there been anything written about this phenomenon?                                        Book Reader and TV Watcher

Dear Reader-Watcher,  I too loved Fred's ""Season's Readings" and plan on seeing it again this weekend. Most of the material appears in his "Christmas Cocktails" which is available on Amazon Kindle- a great last minute holiday gift for the discerning readers on your list…  I have another great book for you: THE  REVOLUTION WAS TELEVISED: The Cops,  Crooks, Slingers and Slayers Who Changed TV Drama Forever by Alan Sepinwall.  Sepinwall's premise is that over the last decade a cadre of writers and producers have used the medium of TV to change people's perception of entertainment- iconoclastc,  morally ambiguous, cynical, literate, always intellectually challenging.  He analyzes in depth twelve  series including "The Sopranos", "24", "The Wire", "Oz", "Deadwood",  "Mad Men", "Breaking Bad", "Battleship Galactica" and "Lost," showing how each broke with tradition and mirrored/precipitated changes in our nation's culture.  Truly fascinating!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru,   Last weekend was such fun here in Sea Cliff with all its holiday activities and this coming week looks equally fine. First, there is the St. Boniface  Tree Lighting  and Caroling on Saturday, Dec. 8 with the added attraction of a horse-drawn carriage taking the carolers around  the Village . Then we have the much beloved Hanukkah Happening at the Firehouse on Thursday, Dec. 13. What fun!  But let's talk books for a moment….friends have recommended I read a new book about a Cambodian youth who was part of the feared Khmer Rouge.  Are you familiar with it and, if so, would you recommend it? Celebrant of the  Season

Dear Celebrant,  Yes, these are two great events not to be missed and the book you have asked about   should not be missed either. NEVER FALL  DOWN by Patricia McCormick was a National Book Award finalist this year. It tells the story of Arn Chorn-Pond who is nine-years old when we first meet him. Life is certainly not easy in the Cambodia of 1976, but it quickly turns horrific when the Khmer Rouge  takes power and a bloody ethnic cleansing begins. Before it ends, one quarter of the population has been annihilated .Especially hard hit were the educated and literate, including almost all of Arn's family.  It is very difficult to read of the traumatic suffering  that haunts the boy's days and nights in Cambodia and then cruelly follows him to  America where he starts a new life, but one  marred by guilt and remorse . The book, while spotlighting humanity's evil instincts, it is also a tale of goodness and redemption as we witness myriad acts of generosity requiring the utmost bravery by so many.